A brand-new study finds that the majority of images associated with health topics on stock photography websites are of light-skinned people within a fairly narrow age variety, making it harder– and expensive– for companies to produce health education products focused on reaching other groups.
The findings are substantial due to the fact that using images relevant to audiences is a crucial factor in effective communication and outreach efforts. If numerous populations are not well represented on stock photography websites, it’s more difficult to develop effective communication tools to reach those populations.
“Lots of organizations that produce health outreach materials count on stock photography sites to produce those materials,” says Michelle Jewell, co-author of the study and a science communicator in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University. “In a lot of cases, companies that produce outreach products for minoritized groups or populations with lower socioeconomic status have restricted resources, which worsens the challenges they face in producing efficient products that reflect the publics they serve.”
The researchers likewise found a substantial difference in between the variety present on images offered on complimentary stock photography sites versus on websites that need users to spend for stock pictures.
“Images on stock image sites with paywalls were substantially most likely to depict a person of viewed minoritized racial/ethnic identity and darker skin tones,” says Catherine LePrevost, co-author of the study and an associate extension professor of used ecology at NC State. “The pay websites were also less likely to include markers of high socioeconomic status than images in databases that were free to use.”
“Simply put, it is harder to find health-relevant photos of individuals who are not light-skinned and upper class,” Jewell says. “And when you do discover them, they are more likely to come with a cost.”
The researchers launched the study after they struggled to discover a stock image of a Latina pregnant lady for an unrelated science communication effort.
“Anecdotally, this absence of representation in stock photography is a well-known issue among expert communicators,” Jewell says. “We wished to quantify the problem to get a better understanding of the scope of the issue.”
For the study, the scientists concentrated on five extensively used stock image libraries, and browsed each of those websites for 5 health-related terms: healthy consuming, exercising, quitting cigarette smoking, vaccination, and pregnancy.
While about half of the images the scientists found included a minimum of a single person from a perceived minoritized group, there were plain differences when researchers represented complexion.
For some search terms– healthy diet plan and stopping cigarette smoking– there were no pictures of people with dark complexion at all. Just one search term– vaccination– consisted of dark complexion in 20% of its images.
“It became glaringly apparent while exploring the stock image libraries that particular populations are underrepresented,” say Zachary Chichester, first author of the research study and an undergrad at East Carolina University at the time of the study. “It is important that we bring attention to this concern in order to ensure that developers of health education media have the ability to produce materials that are most efficient.”
Another factor was whether the stock photos revealed a person’s face.
“If you were trying to find images that consisted of somebody’s face, which is essential for humanizing the subject, things ended up being a lot more difficult,” LePrevost states. “Generally, if an image included a person’s face, it was much less likely to be someone who might be recognized as belonging to a minoritized racial or ethnic group.”
Age provided another obstacle, with the scientists finding extremely few images that included older grownups of any racial or ethnic group.
And these variations ended up being more noticable when looking only at totally free stock photo sites and images.
“Effective health interaction is exceptionally essential, and our research study details a systemic obstacle to developing health interaction tools for lots of groups,” LePrevost states. “Interaction is a crucial element in addressing health variations, and this work highlights among the obstacles facing those communication efforts.”
“We also hope this work will assist health communicators secure the time and financial resources they need in order to establish efficient outreach tools,” Jewell states. “Organizations that support health interaction and education efforts require to recognize that communicators don’t have access to free images that pertain to numerous audiences. Moving forward, granting bodies and other income sources should include budget plans for photographers and illustrators to develop media that best represents pertinent audiences.”
The paper, “The Expense of Variety: An Analysis of Representation and Expense Barriers in Stock Picture Libraries for Health Education Products, 2021,” is released open gain access to in the journal Health Promotion Practice. The paper was co-authored by Joseph Lee, a professor of health education and promo at ECU.
The work was supported by the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, under grant number G08LM013198. The content is entirely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.
“The Expense of Variety: An Analysis of Representation and Cost Barriers in Stock Image Libraries for Health Education Products, 2021”
Authors: Zachary A. Chichester and Joseph G. L. Lee, East Carolina University; Michelle A. Jewell and Catherine E. LePrevost, North Carolina State University
Released: Feb. 1, Health Promo Practice
DOI: 10.1177/ 15248399221150788
Intro. Inadequate health interaction can drive health variations and restrict the efficiency of interventions to minimize them. Stock picture libraries are an important tool for designers of patient education and intervention products. It is unclear how well stock picture libraries represent neighborhoods bearing out of proportion concerns of illness.
Method. We performed a search using 5 popular stock image libraries (Adobe Stock Images, Canva, Getty Images, Microsoft Workplace Image Library, and Pixabay) in November 2021 to examine variety and representation in health-related stock images. We searched for the following 5 crucial preventive health topics: healthy consuming, exercising, quitting smoking cigarettes, vaccination, and pregnancy. The images (N = 495) were coded for age, gender discussion, representation of perceived minoritized racial/ethnic identity, skin color using the Massey– Martin skin color scale, markers of high socioeconomic status (SES), and gain access to expenses.
Results. The representation of viewed minoritized individuals, darker skin color, and addition of markers of high SES varied considerably by the search term and database. Images predominately depicted young adults and grownups, with restricted representation of other age. Images in databases with any paywall were substantially most likely to illustrate a person of perceived minoritized racial/ethnic identity, depict darker skin colors, and were significantly less most likely to consist of markers of high SES identity than images in databases that were totally free to use.
Discussion. We found that it costs more to develop culturally appropriate health education materials for minoritized populations and groups that do not represent high SES populations. This may prevent the development of efficient interaction interventions.